Tuesday 8 February 2011

Turning Front

The French political right is possibly the most fractured in Europe, a condition of its history. To the right of the Gaullists, to the right of the right, are those who stand against the tradition of 1789. They are the people, if you like, of the Vichy tradition, those who were never fully reconciled to the loss of Algeria. It’s a tradition represented by the National Front, headed until recently by Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Like him or not, Le Pen is one of the giants of post-war French politics, occasionally spoiling the feast of the more traditional parties, a little like the ghost of Banquo. In the presidential election of 2002 he beat the Socialist candidate, Lionel Jospin, into second place, forcing the left and centre-right into an unholy alliance behind Jacques Chirac in the second round to ward off the monster. His catchphrase “If anybody doesn’t like France, they should leave” was even echoed by Nicolas Sarkozy ahead of the 2007 election, a sign of how far the Front’s message has percolated into the mainstream.

I’m not keen on Le Pen, I must say; he’s too much of a bruiser, too lacking in subtlety, not quite the gentleman. Still, I agree with those sentiments; I would like to see them applied to my own country, I would like to hear leading politicians say that if you do not like Britain then leave, go, go in peace, but go. People who talk down this country, people who do not value its traditions of tolerance and freedom can get lost, the quicker the better. Please do not misunderstand me: so far as I am concerned this has nothing to do with race, or colour, or ethnicity, or religion. It has, rather, everything to do with attitude.

I’m digressing. Let’s get back to Le Pen and the French far right. Le Pen is dead; long live Le Pen. No, the old chap is not really dead; he’s just taken a back seat, giving way to Marine Le Pen, his daughter, who came top of a leadership poll last month. A lawyer by profession and a mother of three, she is far more personable, far more chic, as the French would say, in every way, carrying little of her father’s ideological baggage. She’s got class, unlike Nick Griffin, the glass-eyed fright who heads the British National Party. She appears on television without looking shifty and evasive, in the way that Griffin looks shifty and evasive.

Her biggest asset is that she carries nothing of the Vichy-Algiers tradition, looking to give the right a new direction, away from past neo-Nazi fixations which kept it penned (Le Pened?) in an electoral ghetto, going so far but no further. She has taken a stand on the tradition of French secularism, making it harder for more established politicians to attack her ‘extremism.’ Her main advantage, besides being the new attractive face of the right, is that people are fed-up with the political mainstream, fed up with both Gaullism in the Sarkozy form, and fed up with the Socialist alternative. Marine’s approval ratings have now reached an impressive 33%, higher than her father every achieved in his heyday.

The ruling UMP party is worried. The fear is that the 2012 presidential election could turn into 2002 in reverse, with Le Pen beating Sarkozy into a second round contest. It does not seem likely, but with Little Nic reshapping the debate on the future of France in terms defined by Marine she has already scored a kind of victory for the new respectable front.


  1. In my country we have a candidate who talks about nationalism, he fight every thing that is wrong in our country but using traditional ideas from the left in democratic way, i know you say Marine Le Pen is from the right but i compare the way to say the things, sometime is good speak directly but sometimes is a nightmare, people get scare, like Vargas Llosa when he wanted be president and said a lot of changes talking about sacrifice, what people did not want it (never wanted sacrifice because they live in sacrifice all the time), he lose and the new president made what Vargas Llosa said but he did not say nothing. All depends, you in politics must take a risk in my opinion but be carefully when you talk, you can make a great mistake and lose. A hug. Mario.

  2. What is her attitude to the EU?

  3. Mario, you live in Peru, is that right? I know a little about the politics of South America, though my knowledge is largely confined to those of Argentina and Venezuela. I need to find out more.

  4. Calvin, I do not know her specific views but the Front has been traditionally sceptical about Europe, especially when it comes to matters concerning further integration.

  5. Yes, I live in Lima, Perú. .

  6. A lovely post Ana! La Marsaillaise, now this is a tune! To arms citizens! form your battalions! lets march, lets march! so that the impure blood should water the furrows of our fields... For the days of Marshall Petain and Vichy France,to the French SS.

  7. Anthony, I think you would be more comfortable with the old guard. :-)

  8. I think the real question about Marine Le Pen is if she will be able to significantly expand the FN's support into more respectable, but no less alienated, strata of society than her, somewhat too pugnacious and openly obnoxious, father was able.

    Specifically, will she attract the support of the strongly EU-sceptic (and sometimes strongly Catholic, particularly of a traditionalist bent) "sovereignist" groups, quite distinct from the FN (like the Mouvement pour la France, around Philippe de Villiers, or the Rassemblement de la France, which has a kind of on-off relationship with the ruling semi-Gaullist party, but is probably less fond of Sarkozy than it was of Chirac or for that matter of de Villepin) than her father was able? (Arguably some of these groups are not reconciled to the loss of the French monarchy, never mind Algeria).

    I'm not sure. And in fact the vocal support for secularism which you mention will probably count against her, at least in those strata that otherwise might be most sympathetic towards her in other regards.

    I'm not sure she really has class either. Rabble-rousing is still part of her armoury, and not in a particularly subtle way. She is definitely more Daily Express than Daily Telegraph...

  9. Napoleon, another Russian miscalculation that wrecked the Grand Armee. A pity that Europe could never unite as the "brother wars" expended so many resources and man power. A united Europe would have been unstoppable. Communism would not have spread like a cancer and all would be in it's proper order.But there were too many factions with diffrent agendas, now we are enslaved to Taxation, socialism , multiculturalism (third world)etc.By the way, France was working better under The Germans than when the French got back in controll (fact).

  10. Dominic, so there is still a residue of Action Française? How fascinating. Do many lawyers read the Express? Well why not? In the end I think these matters are all relative. She's a contrast to her father; we can both agree on that. :-)

  11. Anthony, the history of Europe is the history of rivalry of one kind or another. I suppose it might be possible to argue that the continent, at least the richer part of it, was united under the Romans; but that did not stop the advance of the barbarians. France of the Fourth Republic was no economic or political show case, but I think you will find that it was far more productive than the France of the Occupation.

  12. Sorry for the long delay in replying - internet problems at home...

    Not sure I would categorise the MPF or the RPF as, exactly, being successors of Action Française (remember that membership of the latter was proscribed by the Catholic Church, eventually) - but there certainly is a significant, ultra-conservative, element quite (consciously) alienated from the mainstream and the obligatory state religion of "republican values" that isn't quite at home in the more proletarian realm of the FN or its direct offshoots.

    And while it is always misleading (as in the UK) to read too much into election results to the European Parliament, an alliance of these two was placed second, ahead of the mainstream right, in the 1999 Euro-elections in France -although they have performed less strongly since.

    (Do you know the newspaper "Rivarol" - which one certainly can characterise as being of the "far right", and which is also openly and unambiguously antisemitic? I have a feeling it may have been where Le Pen made his comment about the Nazi gas chambers being "a detail of history". It amazes me that you can pick it up at the French equivalent of WHSmith - is it called Relais? - the red stores at most major railway stations. THAT is probably closer to being a voice of the successors to AF - although that said I'm fairly sure that there still was a newspaper published by the direct successors of AF until fairly recently - like until 10 or 15 years ago? )

    I have to say - a particularly cracking run of posts on here this week. May the inspiration remain with you!

  13. Thank you, Dominic for that information. No, I've never heard of Rivarol. I'll have a look for it next time I'm in Paris.

    I certainly hope it does. :-)

  14. In fact, here you are, the current edition's lead editorial, which is quite to the point.


    "Shoah: Marine Le Pen poignarde son père"

    Short version: they don't like Marine because she is insuffiently "revisionist" (or overtly supportive of "revisionists" with regards to the Shoah.

    "Le Front national n’a plus le même président depuis le 16 janvier. Nous n’avons manifestement pas gagné au change!"